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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Exclusive: Lee Drew closes the gap between players and referees

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Goodwill hunting pays off for Drew Boy as he builds up PSA database 
By MIKE DALE – Squash Mad Columnist

Leedrew_wideHe’s familiar to Squash TV viewers as co-commentator ‘Drew Boy’, offering lyrical analysis on the PSA tour. Having reached world No.45 as a player and ascended England’s coaching hierarchy, the multi-talented Lee Drew is now sinking his teeth into one of squash’s newest and toughest jobs.

Appointed as the first-ever PSA Referee and Refereeing Director in January, Drew’s task is to bring harmony to the antagonistic relationship between the world’s professional players and the men behind the back wall.

Relations between officials and players have been fractious for as long as the words ‘let please’ have existed in the sport’s lexicon, but the need for goodwill between squash’s factions has never been more urgent.

Sponsors, TV companies and, most importantly, the International Olympic Committee, are not keen on the frequent, confusing and disruptive stoppages as players collide and ask for lets, let alone the unedifying disputes and dissent that frequently follow.

Squash needs to sanitise to eradicate these ills and market itself as a TV-friendly ‘product’.

This is the wider context to Drew’s appointment and his task will require diplomacy and tact. No coincidence, then, that he is widely-respected, ambitious and articulate.

“I’m a thinker. I always look to reflect and analyse,” he told Squash Mad. “The way that England [ESR] have developed me has helped me a lot in terms of my problem solving, dealing with people and my communication.

“I have a growth mind set and want to improve the whole time. I would hope that in a year’s time I’ll be completely different again and have moved on another stage in terms of how I deal with situations. It’s an ongoing process.”

Last week’s Canary Wharf Classic was Drew’s first real opportunity to sit down with referees and the leading male players (he’s had no contact with the WSA yet) and exchange ideas on how to achieve progress. The initial feedback was, he says, overwhelmingly positive.

It was an opportune week for the 37-year-old to make his presence felt, with the ugly first-round match between Egyptian pair Omar Mosaad and Karim Abdel Gawad featuring 70 stoppages and much acrimony – precisely the kind of image-damaging spectacle Drew is tasked with eradicating.

“I sat down with Omar Mosaad afterwards,” Drew reveals . “He had already watched a replay of the match. He came to me with his opinion and where he felt he went wrong. He was very pro-active in looking to change and make it better. Once you’ve got that kind of intent it’s such a positive thing.karomar

“I think there will always be the odd flare-up and contentious match. What’s most important is how we deal with it, discuss it and work together and make it better so it’s less likely to happen again.”

Drew intends to hold a first big meeting with PSA players at the British Open in May where he will present a database of over 100 match video clips each referring to a specific rule.

He has added commentary, annotations and analysis to each clip and will canvas players’ and referees’ views on how they feel each rule should be interpreted in different match situations.

Drew says of the video database: “It will give a clear idea to referees and players alike of how the PSA want the game played. It will be a case of, ‘In this situation in future, if this player doesn’t go through to play this ball, that will be a no-let.’

“I think that will start to get rid of the grey areas and target the current problematic areas very quickly.”

As well as meeting many players at Canary Wharf last week, the Colchester-based coach spent time with referees. On the morning of the final, he and PSA chief operations officer Lee Beachill joined two officials as they analysed their performance in the previous nights’ semi-finals.

Even in this brief initial contact, Drew felts his playing and coaching background (he is England national squad coach and a former ESR Elite Coach of the Year) brought a new perspective to referees’ interpretation of match scenarios.

“Referees discuss these things among themselves but I come in with a slightly different ex-player’s and now coach’s viewpoint. I can discuss the lines of players coming in or clearing in relation to where the ball has landed, and the options that a player may have.

“For example, a ball down the right hand side of the court may look like a stroke or a let-ball – but if the player is a left-hander and the ball is quite a way behind them, you know that from that position they’re going to be flicking. You know then that the odds of them cross-courting it are virtually nil, so that would take the stroke out of play immediately.

“It’s those sorts of technical details that I can discuss with them that they wouldn’t have got before.

“In the heat of the moment it’s always going to be subjective and there’s always going to be moments when [decisions] could go either way. You’re playing in a congested area, jostling for confined space. We just need everyone to know deep down that there’s an underlying message that we’re all trying to do the same thing.

“It’s very hard to get people on the same page if there’s not enough communication between both parties. I think hopefully I can make a difference by giving a voice to both players and referees, so we’re all working in one direction to make the game better to watch and play.”

Drew recognises the criticisms made by fellow coach David Pearson in his recent Squash Mad blog about referees’ tone of voice and use of language that players find alienating.

daryljkDrew moots the idea of NLP courses to improve referees’ communication skills and even a referees’ phrasebook to help them provide more clarity in their explanations.

“I don’t think theirs is an easy job and they’ve only got a split second to work things out,” he says. “What we need to make sure is that the logic and rationale behind it stands up. You can make a wrong decision but there has to have been a rationale behind it so you can say, ‘this is the reason I did this’. Then it becomes more understandable and it’s easier for players to accept.”

Drew accepts another of Pearson’s observations – that elite refereeing is dominated by old, unpaid men. He intends to make it more of an attractive profession by lobbying for referees to be paid (although it’s unclear who will fund this as yet).

He’s combating the age issue by looking to US Squash’s model. The American governing body put all juniors in their system through an online refereeing course. Eventually, regardless of their standard as players, they’re left with confident and able referees, who are theoretically well-placed to take it up as a profession. Drew is very interested in this as a long-term global blueprint.

Lee, too, is open to changes which would help combat frequent uncertainty over clean pick-ups. This was brought into focus at the Tournament of Champions when Peter Barker was criticised for playing on despite an obvious double bounce in his match against Mathieu Castagnet.

Although he doesn’t envisage changes to the current three-referee system, Drew says the use of local officials seated to the side of the glass court to look for double bounces is “definitely something worth looking at” with the WSF.

With his plentiful use of “being on the same page” and “opening up lines of communication”, Lee has already nailed the phraseology of the successful modern-day mediator. But, more than anything, it’s his love of the game that may bring him most success as he navigates a tricky path towards improving our sport’s image.

“The game is so explosive, fast, attacking and dynamic, played in a battleground but with artistic expression,” he says. “It’s just a wonderful spectacle and I don’t think there are many sports that can match it in that sense.

“The more we can get that happening and watch these superb athletes operating, the better position we’ll be in.”


Picture by Patrick Lauson and Bryan Lintott


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  1. This all sounds very positive, Lee and the PSA ought to be congratulated on their efforts thus far. Look forward to the British Open and the changes there

  2. I’m afraid anything but positive as the basic flaws in the 3 referee system are still being ignored , until they are addressed with the desired training carried out the farcical situations which occurred at Canary Wharf will continue .

  3. Bearing in mind that ‘Reporting’ is about ‘Communication’, and that, for a great number of PSA members, English is their second language, I consider this article to be littered with ‘Power Talk’ that would confuse many, and is an unnecessary distraction from the story. “On the same page, Lyrical analysis, Ascended, Fractious, Lexicon, Fractious, Unedifying, Eradicate, Articulate, Sanitise, Growth mind set, Opportune, Acrimony, Pro-active, Database, Problematic, Subjective, Rationale, Lobbying, Global blueprint, Phraseology, and Modern day Mediator” ?
    Were those words really necessary?
    I have nothing against Lee Drew, and wish him luck on this new and highly important job. As it appears that Lee has kept his full-time role as an ESR National Coach, the Directorship with the PSA is on a part-time basis.
    However, and I am not wishing it, should the PSA go bust for any reason, as a Director, with or without shares, he would be financially liable for any debts. This could mean losing his house, car, and his bank funds. Better check ! Not wishing to rain on his parade, eyes wide open is the best approach.
    Flowery words have no place in negotiations of this nature, so please let’s keep this simple in order to sort out the problems. Business jargon can be a major distraction, and I personally find it extremely irritating.

  4. Thanks for the feedback Eric.

    Some of the words you mention are Lee’s, and if I’d changed those it wouldn’t be very accurate ‘reporting’.

    As for the others, I too hate modern “buzzwords” used by real-life David Brents to make themselves sound clever and important (ballpark, leverage, synergies, triage, cascading, skill set, ducks in a row, incentivise, heads-up etc), but I don’t think many of those you list fall into the ‘power talk’ category. They’re just…. long(ish) words.

    I guess it just depends whether you’re a tabloid or a broadsheet kind of bloke. I’ll be sure to chuck a few “slams” and “romps” into my next article.


  5. Well Mike, I guess that takes the heat off you ! I must say that as you will be a regular columnist, I am quite relieved, but not that surprised, that most of words in question are quotes from Lee. Maybe a little “Essex boy done good” syndrome (no offence intended) ! My experience tells me that the majority of people will not ask what a word means, for fear of appearing dumb, or less well-educated. As a result the gist of a conversation may be lost, communication breaks down, and not without a little resentment. My advise is to keep it simple to ensure that everything is understood.There is no bonus points allocation for confusing a reader or listener.

  6. I just saw Gaultier – Ghosal and honestly to me as a potential sponsor (not a big one by all means but one considering it and I think the sport needs many of us beside the big ones) this is NOT a sport to invest in.
    The constant fishing from Gaultier until the incident where he during several minutes seems like he’s ready for the cemetary and the next one is in there running as hell. To me it was a little bit of pain and a lot of acting. Gaultier asking for a let and then putting his hand forward to say thank you for the match was so bloody irritating. Sure a tight match is great. This was boring and I honestly don’t see any spectator value in it. I’m still in favor of the US version with only no let or stroke alternatives. Good luck Drew.

  7. Like Peter I have just watched a replay of the Gaultier vs Ghosal match and was left disappointed with our current world number 1s conduct.
    Three instances of showing a shot then fishing for stroke.
    Three doubles( brilliantly called by the ref ) followed by irritating whinging at the ref.
    The injury incident was caused by Gaultier stepping onto Ghosal’s line and should have been a let.
    Most disappointing of all was his attempt to influence the referee by offering his hand on match ball….crass!
    Ghosal on the other hand came accross as an absolute gent.
    Come on Greg…..kids will be watching all that stuff on squash tv, do your bit by being a better role model

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